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Loneliness and Solitude in Education

How to Value Individuality and Create an Enstatic School

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Julian Stern

Analysing loneliness and solitude in schools and exploring how to deal with them is a vital task. In recent research for the author’s Spirit of the School project, a number of pupils, teachers and headteachers described times when they felt lonely and times when they felt the need for healthy solitude. The causes of loneliness are numerous and its consequences have a significant unrecognised impact on education. How do schools deal with people when they are lonely, and how can they overcome loneliness? How can they create opportunities for healthy solitude, a welcome alternative to loneliness? Schools can sometimes try to include people by being intensely social, but end up making them feel even more excluded. A school that teaches solitude well and helps individuals deal with loneliness can be called an ‘enstatic’ school: a school in which people are comfortable within themselves. The objective of this book – the first comprehensive study of the subject – is to help us all understand loneliness and solitude and thereby to reinvigorate debates on personal, character and values education.
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Chapter 2: People Who Need People: Valuing the Personal in Education

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CHAPTER 2

People Who Need People: Valuing the Personal in Education

Loneliness felt like I didn’t exist and I kept messing things up and I felt lost deep, deep deep down inside me and that hurted my feelings alot— ANNIE (aged 7)

Introduction: Am I Alone?

The last hundred years has been dominated by movements working in opposite directions. In the wake of Freud’s work on the subconscious, it has been a deeply personal, self-reflective, therapeutic and individualistic century. But in the wake of late industrialism, including the industrialisation of war, it has been a globalised and impersonal century. Wildernesses have been disappearing and communications technologies have been seeping in everywhere, leaving very few places to hide other than within introspection itself. Aloneness itself is at risk, with Benjamin describing how dangerous this could be, as he was addicted to ‘that most terrible drug – ourselves – which we take in solitude’ (Benjamin 1997: 237). People need each other, and people are also rejecting and destroying each other. In the last century, the ‘inward turn’ started by Augustine and coming to fruition in modernism (Taylor 1989: 177), gets to the point where people are in need of their own personhood and yet can end up rejecting and destroying themselves. This chapter explores how people need each other, and need themselves, in a context where the impersonal can so easily dominate. A young person says ‘I hardly ever have solitude in school’ and goes on...

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